State Report: Tennessee

Weak year in Volunteer State






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
The Volunteer State hasn't had a draft class this weak since 2003, when the state's top picks were second-rounders Javier Herrera, a catcher out of Tennessee, and Memphis prep righty Stuart Pomeranz. The state's best contribution to this year's draft will be indirect, as Pomeranz's younger brother Drew attends Mississippi.

Even without Pomeranz, Tennessee could extend its streak of drafts with a player picked in the top 10 overall if someone bites on Middle Tennessee State outfielder Bryce Brentz. Vanderbilt should  pick the streak back up next year when sophomore righthanders Sonny Gray and Jack Armstrong and third baseman Jason Esposito become draft eligible. All three are potential first-round selections.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

1. Bryce Brentz, of, Middle Tennessee State (National Rank: 28)
2. Blake Forsythe, c, Tennessee (National Rank: 183)

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

3. Bryan Morgado, lhp, Tennessee
4. Stephen Pryor, rhp, Tennessee Tech
5. Taylor Morton, rhp/c, Bartlett HS
6. Robbie Ray, lhp, Brentwood HS
7. Taylor Hill, rhp, Vanderbilt
8. Cody Hawn, 1b, Tennessee
9. Ryan Casteel, c, Cleveland State JC
10. Corderious Dodd, 1b, North Side HS, Jackson
11. Russell Brewer, rhp, Vanderbilt
12. Drew Hayes, rhp, Vanderbilt
13. Matt Kirkland, 3b/rhp, South Doyle HS, Knoxville
14. Ethan Bennett, c, Farragut HS, Knoxville
15. Paul Hoilman, 1b, East Tennessee State
16. Chase Reid, rhp, Vanderbilt
17. P.J. Polk, of, Tennessee
18. Aaron Westlake, 1b/of, Vanderbilt
19. Michael White, rhp, Walters State JC
20. Cole Brand, rhp, Bradley Central HS, Chattanooga
21. Curt Casali, c/1b, Vanderbilt
22. A.J. Kirby-Jones, 1b, Tennessee Tech
23. Austin McClure, ss, Middle Tennessee State
24. Adam Liberatore, lhp, Tennessee Tech
25. Stephen McCray, rhp, Tennessee
26. Chad Oberacker, of, Tennessee Tech
27. Tyler Burnett, 3b, Middle Tennessee State
28. Josh Liles, of, Tennessee
29. Ryan Fraser, rhp, Memphis
30. Justin Guidry, of/lhp, Middle Tennessee State
31. Preston Overbey, 3b, University School HS, Jackson
32. Corey Davis, 1b, Walters State JC
33. Matt Duffy, 3b, Tennessee
34. Chad Zurcher, 2b, Memphis
35. Scott Swinson, rhp, Lee
36. Matt Spann, lhp, Columbia Central HS, Columbia
37. Lance Jerreld, of, Goodpasture Christian School, Madison
38. Will Scott, rhp, Walters State JC
39. Aaron Wilkerson, rhp, Cumberland
40. Troy Zawadzki, ss, Cleveland State JC
41. Adam McClain, ss, Memphis
42. Carter Watson, rhp, Siegel HS, Murfreesboro

SCOUTING REPORTS

Bryce Brentz, of
Middle Tennessee State

Drafted as a pitcher out of high school by the Indians in the 30th round, Brentz was known more for a fastball that reached 92 mph. He was in the weekend rotation as a sophomore but made much more noise at the plate, leading Division I in batting at .465 as well as in home runs (28) and slugging (.930). Brentz followed up by hitting .366 for Team USA and moved to center field as a junior, but he hasn't had the encore season he or scouts hoped for, despite giving up pitching. Brentz got off to a bit of a slow start, then missed three weeks with a hairline fracture of his right ankle. He moved to right field after returning from the injury and profiles better there anyway. His arm hasn't quite bounced back to what it was in high school; once above-average, it's now more solid average. Brentz's all-or-nothing approach at the plate makes him streaky, but he has explosive power, and even in a difficult year he was slugging close to .700. The salutatorian at his high school, Brentz is bright, plays hard and is what he is, a feast-or-famine slugger who fits the right-field profile. He shouldn't last past the first round.

Blake Forsythe, c
Tennessee

The younger brother of former Arkansas star and current Padres farmhand Logan Forsythe, Blake chose to stay in the Volunteer state after attending high school in Memphis. Forsythe broke though with a first-team all-Southeastern Conference sophomore season, showing his brother's trademark patience (40 walks) as well as above-average raw power. He followed that with a strong summer for USA Baseball's college national team and entered the spring as a potential first-round pick. He maintained the power production as a junior, but in most other facets of his game Forsythe was struggling. He came out of the gate slowly and scouts thought he was pressing. Forsythe always has had swing-and-miss issues and has struggled even more with breaking balls this season. His patience at times fell into passivity, leading to more strikeouts. Forsythe's defensive tools include a plus arm—he threw out 35 percent of basestealers this season—and fringe-average receiving and blocking skills. Forsythe performed better as the year wore on and would benefit from a regional bid for the Volunteers. With college catching always at a premium, Forsythe could go anywhere from the third round to the seventh.

Vols Fail To Gain Traction

Tennessee had its first winning season in three years under coach Todd Raleigh. The team seemed poised for more, but missed regionals after finishing 30-26. Junior first baseman Cody Hawn captured the Volunteers' season in microcosm. A pure hitter who hit .364 with 22 home runs as a sophomore, he got off to a slow start thanks to a sprained left shoulder and never got on a roll like he did in '09. He still wound up hitting .327/.441/.593. His bat will have to carry him, and at 5-foot-11 he doesn't have classic first baseman size.

At least Hawn performed, eventually. Redshirt junior lefty Bryan Morgado never did, and it's unlikely he'll match last year's third-round draft status. Recruited out of South Florida by former Volunteers coach Rod Delmonico, Morgado missed Delmonico's final season as a medical redshirt after Tommy John surgery in October 2006. For whatever reason, Morgado never turned his prodigious stuff and arm strength into results at Tennessee, though he was solid (2-1, 3.06, 47 SO/32 IP) in the Cape Cod League last summer. He had 252 strikeouts in just 200 innings for Tennessee, though he also had a career 5.98 ERA and allowed 195 hits. Most scouts believe Morgado would have been better off signing last year. He was in the rotation more consistently this spring, after being in and out as a sophomore, but still couldn't get going. He can run his fastball up to 95-97 mph and usually sits in the 91-94 mph range, though he lacks command even when he backs off into the 88-91 range. Morgado's slider also has power, thrown in the low 80s. Keeping an even keel has long been a struggle, and his confidence took a hit with his lack of success. In his final two outings against Auburn and Alabama, he got six outs while giving up nine runs. The lack of lefthanders in this draft works in Morgado's favor, and as a southpaw with power he still should go in the first six rounds.

Tennessee Tech reliever Stephen Pryor headed in the other direction this season. A junior-college transfer from Cleveland State, Pryor had a reputation with scouts for having size and velocity but little command and poor mechanics. He made significant progress this season in taming his delivery, controling his body and improving his velocity. He has tremendous arm strength and uses his tree-trunk legs well, leveraging his 6-foot-4, 235-pound frame, and he had his fastball sitting 94-97 mph all spring. In a May midweek matchup against Bryce Brentz and Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech coach Matt Bragga brought Pryor in even though the team was losing, showcasing him in front of several top evaluators on hand to see Brentz. Pryor gave up a solo home run but also pumped his fastball up to 98 mph and repeated his delivery. Pryor's slider has its moments in the mid-80s, but he's fairly new to the pitch after ditching his curve. It has decent shape and projects to be an average pitch if he can command it. He dominated at times, with 75 strikeouts in just 41 innings, an amazing 16.5 strikeouts per nine innings. That's just short of the NCAA Division I record set by Ryan Wagner in 2003 (16.8), and Pryor should go high despite his 4-4, 5.71 overall mark at Tennessee Tech and despite getting hit around in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

Pryor's most draftable Golden Eagles teammates include lefthander Adam Liberatore, who is coming off Tommy John surgery last April; outfielder Chad Oberacker, who runs well and has had a tremendous season; and A.J. Kirby-Jones, one of the nation's leading sluggers. Liberatore touched the low 90s last year before getting hurt and was pitching in the upper 80s this season while touching 92. Kirby-Jones has hit 46 homers the last two seasons and has some of the nation's gaudiest numbers in 2010. He understands the strike zone (58 walks) and has a short, powerful swing with plus raw power. He has thickened up over his college career, and his 6-foot, 230-pound frame holds him back defensively. He's a well-below-average runner who is limited to first base despite arm strength that allowed him to pitch 100 innings over the last three seasons.

East Tennessee State first baseman Paul Hoilman rivaled Kirby-Jones for gaudy numbers, batting .421/.526/.860 in dominating the Big South Conference. Hoilman has feel for hitting and has a mature approach against mediocre pitching, as well as the strength to hit for power with wood. He hit eight homers last summer in the New England Collegiate League. His athletic ability is modest and his defense, while improved, rates below-average.

Vanderbilt has plenty of players who could be drafted high this year, if teams think they are signable. Chief among them is junior righthander Taylor Hill, who backtracked as a sophomore after earning a rotation spot as a freshman. He bounced back this year by improving his fastball velocity and command (cutting his walk rate in half from his freshman season). He touched plenty of 93s this season and sat at 89-92 mph. His heater has sink and boring action, and he maintains his velocity. Hill has picked up a split-finger fastball to help him get strikeouts, as his low-80s slider has power but fringy movement. He also throws a changeup. Hill is homer-prone because he pitches off his fastball so much. He profiles as a durable innings-eater and could go off the board as high as the fifth round.

The Commodores should keep some of their juniors as senior signs. More was expected of catcher Curt Casali, who was the top recruit in this class, but injuries have short-circuited his career. He had a hamstring injury much of this season after coming off Tommy John surgery that limited him to DH a year ago. He hardly caught this spring thanks to the hamstring, and his bat hasn't come around as hoped. He's a potential summer follow when he heads to the Cape Cod League. Aaron Westlake stepped in for Casali behind the plate in 2009 but is too big to catch every day. The Californian also has played in the outfield but looks like a better fit at first base, where he's an average fielder. He wavers from too passive to too aggressive at the plate, making him streaky. He has good raw power and led the Commodores with 12 home runs, half of them in conference play. His bat could sneak him into the 10th round.

Righthanders Russell Brewer, Drew Hayes and Chase Reid all have a chance to get drafted, though none of them wows scouts. Brewer had a strong summer in the Cape Cod League in 2009, striking out 33 in 24 innings while getting 10 saves; it was his second straight strong Cape effort. He has already graduated and could be the easiest sign of the bunch. A 6-foot, 210-pound future set-up man, he locates his average fastball well from a low three-quarters arm slot and has a solid slider. He hadn't pitched since May 15 with arm soreness, something to watch.

Hayes, also a 6-footer, is more over the top and gets less movement. He can run his fastball up to 94 mph but his heater flattens out, making him hittable. He's athletic, having played quarterback in high school, and is the son of a baseball coach (Glenn Hayes coached at NAIA Bethel, Ind., where Hayes played as a freshman). He hasn't had much success and doesn't have a great breaking ball, using his changeup as a second pitch.

Reid has considerably less velocity despite the better body at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, as he sits in the mid-80s with his fastball. His curveball and straight changeup are better than any secondary pitch Brewer or Hayes offers.

Weak High School Class Should Get Better Next Year

Knoxville's Farragut High won its third consecutive state 3-A championship behind two of the top players in the Class of 2011. Shortstop Nicky Delmonico hit a walk-off two-run home run, and lefthander Phil Pfeifer threw 15 innings without giving up an earned run over four days in the semifinals and finals. Both could be first-round picks next June.

They stand in sharp contrast to this year's prep group in Tennessee, which scouts didn't like too much. Even catcher Ethan Bennett, who led the nation and set a state record with 27 home runs this spring, wasn't considered a great prospect. Scouts question his athletic ability and catching skills, and they'll watch him with interest as he heads to Tennessee.

Two pitchers got the most looks from scouts. Lefthander Robbie Ray had a tumultuous spring, with inconsistent velocity and performances. He was never quite as good as he showed in showcases last fall, when his fastball reached the mid-90s and his slurvy breaking ball showed more power. He also has flashed a plus changeup with some late fade. His fastball velocity was more in the 89-91 mph range this spring, and in some starts it sat in the upper 80s. That didn't keep him from throwing a five-inning perfect game, one of three no-hitters he authored in the spring. Ray has a whippy arm action and slender 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame. He changed his college commitment from Vanderbilt to Arkansas. While he's considered more signable now, he also could start on weekends for the Razorbacks if he is more consistent next spring.

Righthander Taylor Morton, a Tennessee signee, pushed Ray as the state's top prep prospect, pitching at 92-93 mph during an up-and-down spring. He attracted plenty of scouting attention last summer, touching 94-95 mph at times, but reports of similar velocity this spring were scarce, and his velocity was all over the board. Morton has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and he has shown aptitude with his changeup, including striking out Bryce Harper last summer during USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars with three straight changes. His curve needs more power, which could come with experience. Morton has been a catcher as a prep as well but profiles best as a pitcher.

Chattanooga's top prep player was righthander Cole Brand, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound power pitcher who is committed to Clemson. He has solid-average fastball velocity in the 88-92 mph range and had a strong spring, tossing a no-hitter.

Massive first baseman Corderious Dodd and Matt Kirkland, who projects as a third baseman in pro ball, were being scouted as heavily as any position players in the state. A Walters State JC recruit, Dodd has the arm strength to possibly move to the outfield, but at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, it will be tough for him to play anything but first base. He also pitches, but that's not why he was crosschecked. He has big raw power and good bat speed, making him the state's most interesting hitter on the prep side.

Kirkland has shown raw power potential since his freshman season, when he was in the lineup with Tennessee's current first baseman, Cody Hawn. He has the tools for third, with arm strength and has the present strength in his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame to contribute as a freshman if he makes it to Knoxville as part of Tennessee's recruiting class. Some pro scouts would like to see him behind the plate.

The state's junior colleges have one likely high draftee in catcher Ryan Casteel, who entered the 2009 spring season as the top prep player in the state. He backed out of his Tennessee commitment and made the most of his opportunity at Cleveland State JC, improving his body and showing good athletic ability, strength and hitting ability. He's a year removed from a hamate bone injury that hampered him last spring, and he played with good energy behind the plate while hitting .353 with 14 home runs.

The state's darkhorse will be summer follow Alex McClure, a Middle Tennessee State shortstop who missed the season while sitting out as a transfer from Vanderbilt. McClure attended Walters State JC, then went to Vanderbilt before transferring. His father is the baseball coach at Austin Peay. McClure's best tools are his arm strength and hands. Defensively, he's an above-average defender at shortstop at the college level and could stick there as a pro. He has improved his strength while sitting out and will be followed closely as he plays in the Coastal Plain League this summer.